Domestic Partner Benefits Delayed Due to Increased City Costs
The idea of domestic partner benefits came in a package of proposals delivered to the city by the OU LGBT Center in April 2011. The LGBT Center proposed that Athens needed more regulations that would make hate crime laws more secure, create a domestic partner registry for the city that provides official documentation for same-sex couples who are currently prohibited from marriage in Ohio and enact domestic partner benefits for city employees.
In July 2011, the city passed two of these LGBTQ-friendly ordinances: setting up a domestic partnership registry and including homosexuality as a protected category in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Other protected categories include race, gender and religion. However, because of the expenses that may couple with the benefits, the idea of domestic partner benefits for city employees has not progressed.
“We’re certainly interested in expanding benefits for employees,” Chris Knisely, Athens’ At-Large Representative, said. “We are just needing to investigate single person insurance benefits and partner insurance benefits.”
In addition to the types of insurance coverage, Knisely said the city would have to look at financial ramifications and paperwork documentations and build a budget off of the information provided from the documents to determine immediate and long-term costs.
Claudia Reagan, City of Athens Human Resource Director, explained the current costs of benefits for single employees and employees with dependents and how they would be affected when domestic partner benefits are eventually enacted.
“The annual difference in single coverage and family coverage is $1,115.64. So let’s say ten of our currently single covered employees move to family coverage, due to the city offering domestic benefits; that would be an additional $11,156.40 a year the city would contribute to medical administrative costs,” Reagan explained in an email. “Keep in mind, this is what the city pays just in administrative costs to have our employees insured, this does not include claim costs.”
City employees that would be eligible under the policy would receive benefits such as the enhancement of the family structure and the demonstration of the city’s value for and respect of the employee. Employees and their partners would also receive the health care and prescription drug benefits that are currently provided by the city.
“It would benefit the partners of city employees,” Athens City Council President Jim Sands said about partner benefits. “We offer family insurance coverage, meaning each employee pays a relatively small portion of the premium and the city pays the rest. We would make this available to same sex couples and children involved.”
Although the city may still be apprehensive about the possible costs of benefits, there are plenty of companies that have measured the ethics of the issue as an alternative to the cost. Companies and governments that have domestic partner benefit policies include 137 state and local governments, 164 colleges and universities, including OU, and 60 percent of the Fortune 500.
Supporters of securing domestic partner rights for city employees believe progressing forward would ultimately lead to more rewards for both the employee and the city. In a letter to the editor of The Athens NEWS, the Executive Board of Open Doors, OU’s largest and oldest LGBTQ Student Union, wrote of former commissioner candidate Mike O’Brien speaking at one of their past meetings. At the meeting, O’Brien discussed his views on proceeding further with the policy.
“I support domestic partnership benefits for LGBT citizens in our county. When over 100 members of the Fortune 500 already offer these benefits to employees, such a stance makes our county more attractive to perspective businesses, and it is simply the right thing to do … I am intolerant of intolerance,” O’Brien said at the meeting.
Other supporters of enabling domestic partnership benefits include the Athens City Council administration, the Committee to Move Athens Forward and Athens P-FLAG.
“I support [domestic partnership benefits], yes, 100 percent,” Sands expressed. “Everyone that I have spoken to supports it 100 percent, but we need to clarify how comfortable we are that our budget will support the additional insurance of individuals brought on to the plan.”
“I definitely support [domestic partnership benefits],” Knisely said. “And given the fact that the partner registry passed unanimously last year, I think, unanimously, this council would also be supportive of it.”
Athens City Council plans on making a decision to offer these benefits once they integrate what credentials constitute a partnership. The council hopes to have a more accurate vision of its revenue midway through this year.